India has announced that it plans to explore the Moon and will send an unmanned probe there before 2008. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) calls the moon flight project Chandrayan Pratham, which has been translated as First Journey to the Moon or Moonshot One. 

The 1,157-lb. Chandrayan-1 would be launched on one of India's own Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) space rockets. At first, the spacecraft would circle Earth in a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). From there, it would fly on out into a polar orbit of the Moon some 60 miles above the surface. 


The Chandrayan-1 mission would carry X-ray and gamma-ray spectrometers and would send back data that scientists on Earth would use to produce a high-resolution digital map of the lunar surface. The project's main objectives are high-resolution photography of the lunar surface using remote-sensing instruments sensitive to visible light, near-infrared light, and low-energy and high-energy X-rays. Space aboard the satellite also will be available for instruments from scientists in other countries. 


Why send a probe to the Moon?

While the South Asian nation has the second largest population on Earth, it is not a rich country with millions of uneducated and even homeless residents. Like all other nations sending machines and people to space, India considers funding of its space program to be a matter of prestige. In making the announcement in 2003, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said a Moon flight would showcase India's scientific capabilities. A former science minster in the Indian government, physicist M.G.K. Menon told news media that Chandrayan-1 "will excite the younger generation." Menon also said the Moon flight would have the effect of "enormously increasing the confidence of the nation". 


ISRO said CHANDRYAN-1 is the first mission in "India's foray into a planetary exploration era in the coming decades." Chandrayan-1 will be the "forerunner of more ambitious planetary missions in the years to come, including landing robots on the Moon and visits by Indian spacecraft to other planets in the Solar System."